Weight loss can be a frustrating journey when you’re married to a particular number.
I’ll be happy when I’m 140 pounds.
I can’t get into that bathing suit until I’m at my goal weight.
I need to lose 15 pounds before this wedding.
These are common sentiments, but they don’t take into account the true nature of weight loss – which is a more complicated story than just the number you’re seeing on the scale.
Fat-Muscle Ratio Matters More Than Pounds
Simply put, it’s a myth that muscle weighs more than fat. You can think of it in terms of the feathers and lead scenario: a pound is a pound is a pound. What is true, however, is that muscle tissue is denser than fat. It takes up less space in the body because it’s more compact.
Some people may reach a point when they feel like they’re exercising and eating right, but the pounds aren’t coming off. That may be OK – it’s possible your muscle-to-fat ratio is improving, which means you’re a) losing fat, and b) gaining muscle.
When this happens, you should still be seeing changes in your body, even if the number on the scale isn’t coming down.
Why We Want Less Fat
Having a high body fat percentage can contribute to not only extra weight, but also a number of serious health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
If you’re seeing your overall body fat go down, even if you’re not losing pounds, per say, you’re still moving toward better health.
The Calorie Equation
Not only does muscle take up less space than fat (which is why you may feel like you’re getting smaller but not necessarily losing pounds on the scale), muscle tissue also uses more calories than fat.
For example, a 150-pound woman with 25 percent body fat has more muscle tissue than a 150-pound woman with 45 percent body fat. Naturally, then, the woman with lower body fat needs more calories to keep her body sustained – so she burns more calories (even at rest) than the woman with 45 percent body fat.
This means that having a lower body fat percentage enables you to eat more calories than you can with a higher body fat percentage – and not gain weight.
Why You Should Measure and Weigh
The question of “Does muscle weigh more than fat?” needs to be replaced with “How do my clothes fit?”
Taking regular measurements of your waist, upper arms, thighs, and chest area will give you a better idea of your progress than any number on the scale. That’s not to say you can’t have a goal weight, but that number might actually be different than what you’ve always had in your head – especially as you start to really get in shape and slim down.
If you’re losing inches (your clothes are baggier, your waistband is loose), then you can almost be sure you’re losing fat – even if your weight isn’t changing.
Once you get to a point where you’re losing inches but not losing pounds, that may be a sign you’ve reached your body’s natural weight – and that’s a good thing!
How to Build Muscle So You Lose Fat & Slim Down
We’re often told that in order to lose weight we need to kill ourselves with cardio. But that’s simply not true.
Yes, cardiovascular exercise can burn calories and is great for overall health. But if we’re talking about weight loss, it comes down to your muscle-to-fat ratio. Meaning, you need to build muscle in order to burn the most calories, shed the most fat, and slim down.
How do you do this?
In two words, strength training.
A lot of women, in particular, are afraid of weight-based exercises because they don’t want to get bulky. But strength training isn’t just about lifting heavy barbells or doing bench presses. Any activity that builds muscle is technically strength training: body weight training (like yoga), plyometric exercises, squats, lunges, push-ups, kettlebell swings, burpees, plank poses – these are all activities that build strength.
Even doing a challenging hike where you’re working your glutes can help build muscle.
While everyone is different, combining an exercise routine of both cardio and strength training is best for weight loss (try burst training or interval training if you’re short on time and want to get both activities in at one time).
If the number on the scale isn’t moving, you might have to increase your strength training. As long as you’re losing inches and your body is becoming more sculpted, you can be confident you’re losing fat. Don’t worry so much about the number.